Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yes, We Can!

I flew home from Kazakhstan to participate in the protests to the Trump inauguration on January 20-21.  My reflections on those days are in my follow-on web journal, Alice in State, at

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Project Sultana: A Plea for Help

Let me be blunt.  Transgender persons in Kazakhstan do not have a right to higher education.  Correction:  even secondary education is problematic at best.  This is my personal plea to my reading public to help Sultana Kali, a talented, dedicated young transgender woman from provincial Kazakhstan, continue her education in the United States.  You can find her crowd funding campaign site at .

So here's the story.  Sultana is an 18-year-old transgender woman from a provincial city in northern Kazakhstan where winters are long and hard.   I met her for the first time at a dinner I hosted last April on the eve of an Embassy-sponsored round-table on LGBT issues in Kazakhstan.  I felt a personal connection when I found her on her knees that evening looking at my vinyl record collection.  When she found my Joni Mitchel albums, she asked if we could put them on the turntable.  I was so surprised that a young woman from a provincial Kazakhstani city would even have heard of Joni Mitchel, let alone consider her one of her favorite singers.

Sultana was bullied out of her college, Kazakhstan's equivalent of our high school, a year before graduating.  Very rare for Kazakhstan, Sultana has a loving, supportive mom and family.  Sultana has presented as female from an early age, but if she "got away with it" through elementary school, secondary school was an entirely different story.  The principal would send her home again and again, telling her to return dressed and behaving according to the gender in her passport.  When this did not work, the principal started summoning Sultana's mom.  When that did not work, the principal started placing Sultana in front of the student body to criticize and mock her publicly.  Friends who had known Sultana since an early age began to turn away, as did the entire faculty.  Finally, in Sultana's third year, the principal warned her of "elements" at the school who wanted to hurt her.  Unless she conformed, the principal said she would let those "elements" loose.  At that point Sultana's mom pulled her out of the school.

When I first heard Sultana's story at the Embassy's round-table, I thought it would be a simple matter for us to find another school for her within Kazakhstan.  Never was I more wrong.  Everywhere we went, including the private international schools in Astana and the elite Nazarbayev University, we were told there was no place for Sultana.  No school in Kazakhstan will accept her.  It's a pretty sad commentary on Kazakhstan that even money will not open doors for a transgender student.

And so was born "Project Sultana," the aim of which is to get Sultana into a community college or four year university in the United States.  Several institutions in the US are willing to take her without a high school diploma based on the academic record she has.  Her English is already very good.  Sultana so far has submitted two college applications and is working on an application for a Point Foundation LGBT scholarship.  I'm guiding her through the college and scholarship application process, but there is a limit to what I can do.

We need money.  Study in the US is expensive.  To cover Sultana's expenses for her first year, we need to raise on the order of $25,000, of which I'll give $5000.  As someone who has given out well more that $10,000 of her own money to help others in the transgender community, I now turn to the world community with this appeal.  If 500 people would give $40 each, we would reach our goal quickly.  But please give whatever you can, no matter how small.  Then please pass the link and the word.  After all, that's what crowd funding is about.

Go to the crowd funding site at, view our video, and please help!

With warm thanks from Astana, Kazakhstan,
Robyn & Sultana

PS -- Or, you can go directly to our donate button HERE and view our video below.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What Would George Kennan Say?

George Kennan was the U.S. diplomat who, through his long telegram in 1946, put in place the U.S. post-war policy of containment of Soviet expansion.  What would he say of US-Russia relations today?  My musings are at